Explaining the complicated 2020 NHL draft lottery format

2017 NHL Draft. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
2017 NHL Draft. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The upcoming modified 2020 NHL draft lottery seems complicated, so let’s break it down.

The NHL finally lifted the curtain on the league’s process for resuming play hopefully later this year. On Tuesday, commissioner Gary Bettman publicly announced the NHL’s 24-team playoff format, which was agreed upon by both the league and the NHL Players’ Association last week.

Alongside the announcement came the decision of the league’s process for the upcoming NHL draft and the draft lottery, which had been in question for the last few months. Previously, the NHL had been looking to hold the draft as early as June, but that plan has since been scrapped due to the 24-team playoff format.

Breaking down the 2020 NHL draft lottery format

As first reported by Shayna Goldman, freelancer for The Athletic, the NHL’s draft lottery will encompass the seven teams that were left out of the league’s playoff format, followed by the eight teams eliminated in the play-in rounds. The 15 teams in total will be entered into the lottery with the same odds as in previous years, with the Detroit Red Wings holding the top odds at 18.5 percent.

Alongside that reporting, Corey Masisak of The Athletic first reported that the draft will not happen until after the playoffs are completed this year, officially putting the nail in the coffin on that idea.

However, after that is where things start to get a bit more confusing. The NHL will hold the draft lottery for the top three picks on June 26, well before the start of the playoffs and the awarding of the Stanley Cup. The eight mystery teams will still get a chance to snag the top three picks, happening in three separate draws, but fans won’t find that out until the possible second phase of this draft lottery.

If that sounds confusing, here’s how the NHL themselves breaks down the draft lottery format for the No. 1 overall pick in their press release:

  • If the winning team of the First Draw is from the #1-7 group, that team wins the right to the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
  • If the winning team of the First Draw is from the #8-15 group, the right to the first overall pick will be determined in Phase 2 of the Draft Lottery.

The same process is repeated for the second and third overall picks. If all three of the top picks are won by the seven known teams, the four known teams that lose out will be seeded in inverse order of points percentage to round out the top seven. Following that, the next eight positions are filled by the teams that do not advance past the qualifying round in inverse order of points percentage.

By that measure, the second phase of the draft lottery would not be needed.

However, if a mystery team does win one of the top three draft picks, a second phase would kick in between the qualifying round and the first round of the playoffs to determine the corresponding selections. Phase two would only include the eight qualifying round teams that fail to advance, all with the same 12.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, and after the top three selections are made, the remaining slots would be assigned to the 12 teams that did not win a draw in inverse order of their points percentages.

While this sounds complex written out, given how wordy the explanations are, the draft lottery will effectively remain the same as previous years. The only caveat being that a mystery team may win one of the top three spots, which would delay the draft lottery until after the qualifying round, where we would then find out which team has jumped into the top three.

While complex in its nature, this format does eliminate the — very unlikely — fear that a team could win the draft lottery than turn around to win the Stanley Cup in the same season by crafting the lottery teams from those already out of the running. The 15-team format is already similar to how the NHL draft lottery has worked in the past, making this not too far of a stray from the path.

The NHL also acquiescing on holding the draft before the playoffs does makes things smoother with the league as a whole. Holding the draft before the playoffs — and therefore before the draft order is usually set — would have likely eliminated trades from the equation, and would have made things a more chaotic than they needed to be.

However, this format for the draft lottery does mean teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs or Edmonton Oilers could win the first overall pick, should they lose their best-of-five qualifying round. It’s strange to have the option to allow good teams the chance at a top three pick in this year’s draft if they lose a coin flip playoff series, but the NHL seems to be banking on that being a very slim option, given the circumstances for that to occur.

While not as clean cut as it could be, the NHL’s modified draft lottery format will still prioritize the league’s worst teams as it has in the past, with an added wrinkle or two.

Next. Here's how the NHL's 24-team playoff will work. dark

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